Mapping the states of India

Concession with constraints

Although the quest for legislative assembly ended with the passing of 69th Constitutional amendment in 1991, the governance of Delhi remains split between the LG and council of ministers — with the former enjoying overriding powers

Concession with constraints

After two decades of haphazard governance through multiple agencies, the Centre finally agreed to set up the Justice RS Sarkaria Committee (later renamed Balakrishnan Committee when Justice Sarkaria resigned) to look at the "reorganisation of Delhi set-up" in 1987. The committee was tasked to study various issues plaguing the administration process of the national capital and offer solutions. While the BJP and the Janata Dal made a strong plea for full statehood before the committee, the (then) ruling Congress Party at the Centre took a more restrained view. It expressed support for maximum autonomy but was opposed to statehood. In its

report submitted in 1989, the committee admitted that most of the difficulties faced by the citizens of Delhi were due to the structural inadequacies and flaws of the existing system. It stated that "Delhi as the national capital belongs to the nation as a whole."

It further held that while the federal government should have substantial control over the governance of the national capital, the people in the city also needed a representative body to look into sectors of administration that impact their daily lives. Even as it maintained Union Territory status for Delhi, the report made a strong recommendation for the restoration of legislative assembly with appropriate powers to deal with matters concerning the citizenry. The report had envisaged that Delhi cannot have a situation where the national capital has "two Governments run by different political parties. Such conflicts may, at times, prejudice the national interest."

The report foresaw that if Delhi becomes a full-fledged state, there will be a Constitutional division of sovereign, legislative and executive powers between the Union and the State of Delhi. The Parliament would have limited legislative access and that too only in special and emergency situations. The Union would be unable to discharge its "special responsibilities in relation to the national capital as well as to the nation itself".

In accordance with the recommendations of the Balakrishnan Committee, the Parliament passed the Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, which inserted the new Articles 239 AA and 239 AB in the Constitution providing, inter alia, for a legislative assembly for Delhi. Another comprehensive legislation passed by the Parliament, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, supplemented the Constitutional provisions relating to the legislative assembly and the council of ministers and matters related thereto. Section 33 of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act provided for the framing of the rules of procedure and conduct of business of the legislative assembly. The assembly was invested with the power to make laws with respect to all the matters in the State List or in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India, except the following entries: 1(Public Order), 2(Police) and 18(Land); and entries 64,

65 and 66 relatable to the said entries in the State List. In short, the 69th Amendment Act roughly restored the kind of governance system that was offered to Delhi in 1952 — a Union Territory with a legislative assembly, council of ministers and an elected chief minister with a limited mandate. However, the LG continued to exercise overriding powers, especially in matters concerning land, law and order, and appointment of senior officials.

In 2016, the government of NCT of Delhi approached the Delhi High Court regarding the powers of the LG. The court held that the lieutenant governor of Delhi exercised "complete control of all matters regarding National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi". An appeal was filed before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court which opined that "the status of NCT of Delhi is sui generis, a class apart, and the status of the lieutenant governor of Delhi is not that of a governor of a state, rather he remains an administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of lieutenant governor." It said that the lieutenant governor of Delhi had no independent decision-making powers and was bound to follow the 'aid and advice' of the Delhi 'chief-minister-headed council of ministers' on all matters except those pertaining to police, public order and land. However, as experts have pointed out, while the court's interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution was sound and correct, all it did was to restore an unhappy status

quo regarding the government of the national capital territory of Delhi. The flaw was in Article 239AA itself. While giving Delhi a legislature which drew its powers from the Constitution (like a state), it also left it with an administrator in the form of an LG (like a Union Territory) with more powers than the governor of a state.

The situation has not been eased by the enactment of the GNCTD (Amendment) Act, 2021 which allows the LG of Delhi to refer to the President any Bill passed by the Delhi legislature that may even incidentally fall outside the purview of the Delhi legislature (Section 3); curtails the powers of the legislative assembly and its committees to look into matters of 'day-to-day administration' or 'administrative decisions' (Section 4); and mandates that all executive actions can only be taken by the Delhi government after seeking the opinion of the LG (Section 5). Needless to say, the Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court by the GNCTD.

Views expressed are personal

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